Repentance Day Celebrations in Germany

Buß- und Bettag, or Repentance Day, is a public holiday in Germany’s state of Saxony. Most businesses and schools close for the day. In other areas of Germany, there is no holiday for the Day of Prayer and Repentance. However, some schools in the state of Bavaria may be closed. It falls on a Wednesday that comes before November 23rd and 11 days before Advent begins. It is the occasion when Protestant Christians pray or reflect quietly.

Repentance Day Celebrations in Germany

What Happens on Repentance Day?

A few Protestant Christians spend a lot of the day at prayer and reflecting on repentance, it also gives them some extra time to spend with friends and family.

The History of Repentance Days

In 1878, there used to be 47 days of repentance, taking place on 24 different days and dates in 28 German states. In 1893 a Prussian church council made the decision that the day of repentance had to take place on a Wednesday that is before the last Sunday in the church year which would make it 11 days before the 1st Sunday in Advent.

During World War 11 the Day of Prayer and Repentance was transferred to a Sunday. In 1952 it was declared a public holiday mainly observed in Protestant districts until 1981 when Catholic districts started to observe it.

This day was a public holiday until 1966 when it was removed as such following the introduction of the 5 day week in the German Democratic Republic. It was a public holiday in the Federal Republic of Germany but not in Bavaria.

Buß-und Bettag in 1939 was eliminated as a legal non-working day, so as to add more working time throughout World War II. Following this war, Buß-und Bettag were celebrated again and became a legal holiday in most of the states of Germany, in all of the four areas of Berlin and the four occupation areas (but not in the Free State of Bavaria found in the American sector).

In 1952 Catholic Bavaria decided to make Buß-und Bettag a legal day off work which first happened in its mainly Lutheran counties, and in1981 in the whole area the Free State. By 1966 Buß-und Bettag had been eliminated in the Democratic Republic of East Germany as well as in East Berlin as a legal non-working holiday.

From October 3rd 1990, the unification day for East Germany, West and East Berlin with the West German Federal Republic of Germany, Buß-und Bettag again became a legal day off work in the East German states.

From 1990 to 1994 The Day of Prayer and Repentance became a public holiday for the whole nation. However, Germans gave up the public holiday in 1994 in exchange for improvements in health insurance. The German federal government enacted a law to organize finance for federally funded nursing care.

Because more money was required, the federal government made a proposal to increase the labour force’s working week by a day without increasing wages. The revenue gained from the extra unpaid day of labour was used as a way of securing finance for insurance for nursing care.

The federal government, controlled by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), suggested that the German states, which have always had the power to determine religious festival days as legal days off work, to ban the Protestant Buß-und Bettag as a legal holiday. Almost every German state agreed but not the Free State of Saxony, which instead selected an increased charge on labour revenues, so that just their Buß-und Bettag was still a legal holiday from 1995. In Bavaria, Buß-und Bettag was still a day off for all schools and many kindergartens.